It’s amazing how simple things can etch a memory deep into your heart. Music, sights, sounds and smells. Food and cooking has always brought back memories of family holidays and campfire stories. Tin loved food. That’s basically the understatement of the year. He would take anything we had in the kitchen and in an hour there would be a beautiful meal on the table and every pot and pan in the sink. Tin was also an avid gardener so it’s only natural that he loved fresh herbs.
When we first met, I went over to his apartment and sat on the balcony. It was like a rainforest in the middle of Atlanta. Palms growing as tall as the ceiling would let them and flowers in every corner. A thunderstorm was approaching and we sat and talked watching the beautiful sky change and fill the air with electric excitement. The rain began to fall. A breeze accompanied the drops and sprayed them into the rainforest. I remember distinctly starting to get the summer rain smell as I listened to Clayton and the rain share their stories. I took in a deep breath and was captivated by a new note in the song of the storm. The breeze and the rain had rustled past a small bush nearby and brought to me an amazing aromatic blend of summer rain and Thai basil. It became a favorite of ours and we often spoke of that day whenever we cooked with Thai basil. That day we were etched.
When Clayton became sick last October, he could no longer garden. He could no longer do much of anything except to cook and eat. His hunger drive and specific food desires at random times grew stronger by the day. He began to show anger if he couldn’t have what he wanted when he wanted it. To some it appeared childish but to us we knew that food was the last thing Tin had control over as he moved towards his final meals. To give him back some of his gardening, for Christmas I bought him an indoor gardening kit with Thai Basil seeds. I had him open it last as the big surprise. He was excited and wanted some time to read everything and get his garden growing. Deep down it was my way to show him that he still had the ability to hold life.
That garden never had the chance to grow. I never had one last time for Tin and I to smell that sweet smell together. His illness took his life before he had a chance to create another’s. I hesitated for days and then I set up the garden. He would be there with me somehow. As the week went by the seeds grew and my sadness shrunk. There were a handful of herbs and the Thai Basil. After a month the Thai Basil had become so big that it suffocated the others and was left to stand solo – a natural gift and a painful reminder that I too was alone.
So why am I sitting here writing about the past as this blog is to share my present? Well without the past you wouldn’t understand how my week went. For the past few weeks I have had to trim the basil back. Within days it grew and reached beyond it’s artificial sun as if it was headed to Heaven. Part of me wanted to let it grow in hopes that I could climb it and find Tin at the top. I trimmed it this past weekend and by Tuesday it was overgrown again. I distinctly remember saying out loud to my dog Roan that I’d have to trim it when I get home.
I got a surprise call later that day from Tin’s cousin Stacey. She asked if I remembered the strange conversation Tin had with his mother in the hospital about how I was going to be alone. Of course I remembered. I was right next to them filling out his Will. It was a discussion between a mother and her dying son so I kept to myself. Stacey began to explain that Tin had asked his mom to give me what she would have given him and that was an inheritance that would pay off all of my debt, cover the rent I now had on my own and extra to have a cushion. I have never felt such opposing extreme emotions in my entire life. I was shocked, relieved, excited, angry, embarrassed and deeply saddened. My life was going to be much easier. My life was going to be financially more stable. Nothing is worth losing Tin.
When I got home I greeted Roan and took him on a walk as usual. When we came back in I started getting our dinner ready and I noticed a handful of dry leaves on the counter. I looked up and the beautiful full Thai basil I expected to see from the morning had withered, dried and dropped its leaves. I had watered it just that morning. My last living piece of Tin was gone…
So I know this is a long blog that spans the course of our relationship but this is my now. I am sitting here with Roan looking at our lost Thai Basil and it occurred to me that our favorite spice in life flourished until the day that Tin’s final dying wish was fulfilled. The house feels oddly empty and, like that Basil plant, I now stand alone. A fresh start? A new normal? A new recipe…